To Employers - Hands off employee FB passwords, or else

Krystal Peak · March 23, 2012 · Short URL:

Facebook condemns the practice of employers requiring employees, job seekers to hand over passwords

Transparency is often a desired aspect of most businesses, especially one that holds onto a lot of personal data.

Facebook continues to receive a lot of flack for not being as transparent about the use of the personal data it's amassed for its 800+ million users in its system. This time, however, the social networking giant is scolding others for their privacy-tapping and transparency requirements.

Facebook issued a statement Friday by Chief Privacy Officer Erin Egan that calls out companies that are asking employees to turn over their Facebook passwords.

Over the last year or so, an increasing (and alarming) number of accounts has popped up where companies have pressured -- if not, required -- its employees to hand over their personal passwords to maintain transparency in the online actions of people in the enterprise and Facebook is warning them now that this is an legally actionable offense. 

"This practice undermines the privacy expectations and the security of both the user and the user's friends," Erin Egan, the site's chief privacy officer, wrote Friday. "It also potentially exposes the employer who seeks this access to unanticipated legal liability."

While many companies and employees have been on the Internet prior to the creation of Facebook, it is becoming more common that job requirements during the hiring stages will include "friending the HR rep and manager" so that they can assure you are on brand, and for some jobs, even handing over the password for your personal profile.

"As a user, you shouldn’t be forced to share your private information and communications just to get a job.  And as the friend of a user, you shouldn’t have to worry that your private information or communications will be revealed to someone you don’t know and didn’t intend to share with just because that user is looking for a job.  That’s why we’ve made it a violation of Facebook’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities to share or solicit a Facebook password." Egan said. "But it also may cause problems for the employers that they are not anticipating. For example, if an employer sees on Facebook that someone is a member of a protected group (e.g. over a certain age, etc.) that employer may open themselves up to claims of discrimination if they don't hire that person."

Even the American Civil Liberties Union is shocked and dismayed that this invasion of privacy could be required of potential employees, and in such a tumultuous economy it is easy to see why some people are more apt to hand over their freedom for a steady paycheck.

"It’s an invasion of privacy for private employers to insist on looking at people’s private Facebook pages as a condition of employment or consideration in an application process," stated the ACLU attorney Catherine Crump on the company website Tuesday. "People are entitled to their private lives. You’d be appalled if your employer insisted on opening up your postal mail to see if there was anything of interest inside. It’s equally out of bounds for an employer to go on a fishing expedition through a person’s private social media account."

Egan even went as far as to state in her post that Facebook will consider going to court if it hears of the practice continuing.

"Facebook takes your privacy seriously," she wrote. " We'll take action to protect the privacy and security of our users, whether by engaging policymakers or, where appropriate, by initiating legal action, including by shutting down applications that abuse their privileges."

And for those of you, I am assuming most of you, that haven't read through the updates terms of service on Facebook, it is already a breach of the Facebook usership agreement to share your passwords.

Facebook is lily flexing its muscle during these last few weeks before its IPO in order to boost usership confidence and hush  the naysayers that often say the company will loose the strength it once had in being a consumer-focused network rather than a brand and business-driven business. By standing up for the individual users, it feels like Facebook is trying to even out the balance that has been tipping, quite strongly, toward the businesses that install apps, buy data and advertise on the Web behemoth. 

The language used in the agreement is actually: "You will not share your password, (or in the case of developers, your secret key), let anyone else access your account, or do anything else that might jeopardize the security of your account."

We will have to see if Facebook feels the need to go forth and sue any businesses they hear about continuing this practice and companies that are requiring such personal information may need to seriously consider whether that requirement is truly worth the risk.


(Image Source: Gizmodo


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